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Friendly chicken breeds

Chicken on my knee

Turken cockerelI'm curious to hear what those of you who keep pastured chickens think about the importance of friendliness.  Our flock is changing drastically this year, from a near monoculture of Golden Comets (with one White Cochin) to a diverse array of Black Australorps, Cuckoo Marans, and Light Sussex.  We chose the first and last breed for their reputed foraging abilities (and they seem to be living up to the hype) and the Marans for their broodiness.  Our plan is to eat our ancient Golden Comets in a week or two and go into winter with a young flock ready to churn out the eggs and raise their own babies next year.

As you can tell, I've been selecting breeds based on utility --- finding their own food and deleting the need for an incubator --- but I have to admit I'll be a bit sad to replace our ultra-friendly Golden Comets with a more skittish flock.  The Cuckoo Marans are extremely shy and even the Cuckoo Marans pulletBlack Australorps keep their distance, although the Cochin-raised rooster we'll be keeping may turn the flock friendlier.

On the other hand, the Golden Comet hybrid chicks (both of whom turned out to be cockerels and went in the freezer) were almost too human-centered, and the Turken cockerel (also slated for the freezer) is definitely less shy than his Australorp peers.  Our Light Sussex chicks seem to be the nicest breed of the year, walking right under my hand as I put in fresh feed rather than running away and even hopping up on top of the brooder to say hi to me.  The downside of Sussex is that they don't lay nearly as well as those skittish Australorps.
Chicken bucket waterer
On the one hand, less personable chickens are easier to eat, and our flock is definitely dual purpose.  But there's something to be said for birds who will come when they're called and even drink from their chicken waterer on command when curious human visitors come calling.

For those of you who raise working chickens on semi-serious homesteads, do you think friendliness is an important trait for chickens?  Would you buy more chicken feed if it meant birds that came running every morning, or stick to hard workers who scurry into the weeds at your approach?

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I have White Leghorns, Sliver Laced Wyandottes, and Bantam Barred Rock/OEGB crosses that are all very skittish, Buff Orpingtons that are almost friendly, and Black Australorps that are very friendly, they always trot up to us and wander around our feet when we are in the field. In a way the friendly ones are nice, they don't freak out when you need to handle them. Overall though I like the skittish ones for free-ranging. They spend more time foraging instead of looking for handouts and their flighty natures serve them well if a predator comes around. Just a couple of hours ago I was out with them when a hawk swooped down, the flighty ones dove into openings in the nearby stacked hay bales, the friendlies hurried over to stand near me in the open. And of course its much easier to process a chicken you aren't friends with.

Comment by Athena Wednesday afternoon, September 21st, 2011
I don't know how serious I am about raising chickens - I have five that live in my backyard and am waiting with bated breath for eggs (just a couple more weeks!) - but I LOVE that my chickens are all friendly. Yes, it's important to me. If I'm going to give up my back yard to birds, I want to enjoy them. I spend about an hour with them each morning - the cochin sits in my lap, the others cluster near and preen. I don't know what I'd do with anti-social birds. Certainly never imagined loving them as much as I do.
Comment by Flea late Monday evening, September 26th, 2011
Athena and Flea --- Great to hear from opposite sides of the issue. (Funny that Athena's Black Australorps are her most friendly, though, since they're pretty skittish by my standards.) I tend to lean more toward Athena's side, but I've also fallen in love with the Light Sussex I'm currently raising which come when I call. That said, if they've eaten too much storebought feed when I crunch the numbers on the ones we turn into broilers, that variety will all go in the pot.
Comment by anna Tuesday afternoon, September 27th, 2011

When we get our first chickens in the Spring, friendliness will figure into the equation. My wife is ok with me getting them, but I want here to want them herself. That's not going to happen with skittish birds. I also have kids that I want to enjoy keping the chickens.

I haven't decided on types yet, that will come closer to the time I get them. I'll also probably get them locally, so I'll just need to have an idea of which types are acceptable.

Does the way that they are raised have any impact on how friendly they are? If I handle them every day, will I raise friendly birds? Do they learn the difference between people? Will they know that I'm friendly where my wife may not be friendly?

Comment by Greg S late Tuesday morning, October 4th, 2011

Ah yes, the get-the-spouse-on-board dilemma. :-) The trouble with using that approach with livestock, though, is that you end up with family members who think they're pets and fight against you eating old chickens, extra roosters, etc.

A chicken's upbringing does have a big impact on its friendliness, but there seems to be a huge genetic component as well. Our Cuckoo Marans are our shyest birds, and even though I hatched them in the incubator (so they heard my voice in the egg) and raised them inside for a few weeks, they were always terrified of me! In stark contrast, the Light Sussex came out from under the brooder on day 1 just to see me and would later fly up on top of the brooder to say hi. So, it's a combination of nature and nurture.

Chickens can definitely tell people apart. I'm the main feed-bringer, so they like me a lot better than Mark. :-) That just means they run toward me, though, and might ignore Mark.

Comment by anna at noon on Sunday, October 9th, 2011

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